Dysfunctional School Boards

By Del Stover

When did the Clayton County Board of Education begin to self-destruct?

Some might point to the meeting where Vice Chair Rod Johnson announced that he’d asked for an independent investigation of three fellow members -- one for possible bid tampering, another for verbally abusing staff, and a third for misuse of county funds.

Others might point to the meeting where board Chair Ericka Davis warned colleagues that personal attacks against fellow members would no longer be tolerated. Seconds later, board member Sandra Scott launched a personal attack against Johnson and other critics, pointedly ignoring the chair’s attempts to restore order.

It was a telling moment. The school board of Georgia’s fifth-largest district clearly was out of control.

For much of 2008, Clayton County served as a poster child for school governance “gone bad.” As its bickering garnered state and national headlines, the board was accused of mistreating staff and micromanagement. Members so frequently violated state ethics and open meeting laws that their attorney quit in frustration. One board member was removed from office for living outside his district, several resigned under public pressure, and the rest were removed from office by Gov. Sonny Perdue for ethics violations.

Adding insult to injury, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) took away the school district’s accreditation -- a penalty not exercised in almost 40 years.

“There was an assessment made that the dysfunction had gotten to such a level that it was effectively beyond repair,” says William “Brad” Bryant, a state education commissioner originally asked by Perdue to help the board. “They were pretty much locked down in a death struggle.”

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Del Stover (dstover@nsba.org) is a senior editor of American School Board Journal.
Illustration by Jonathan Barkat.